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Therapists have developed all kinds of innovative therapies to help their clients in creative ways. Dance therapy, art therapy, music therapy, and energy therapy are just a few of the types of therapies available to aid a variety of conditions. Animal-assisted therapy is an established type of therapy that uses dogs, dolphins, or other animals to help build client-therapist trust and make other advancements in the treatment.

Now, some therapists are taking a closer look at hippotherapy as a way of healing. Hippotherapy is a form of animal-assisted therapy that uses horses. Hippotherapy more specifically focuses on the use of horseback riding to address physical, speech, and occupational impairments.

History of Hippotherapy

The medical history of hippotherapy dates back to the 1960s, when physicians in Switzerland, Germany, and Austria noted relationships between differences in the horse’s gaits with the ability to induce neuromuscular changes in patients. Very quickly after seeing its potential, medical practitioners combined hippotherapy with other treatment strategies to increase the effectiveness of treatment.

Applications of Hippotherapy

Hippotherapy has been applied to treat a number of conditions, including the following.

  • Autism
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Spinal cord injuries and head trauma
  • Arthritis
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Asperger’s syndrome
  • Stroke

The therapy apparently promoted both physical and mental stimulation. People who had been living with a physical limitation their entire lives were often able to move exactly where and when they chose for the first time. The use of hippotherapy as a form of speech therapy enabled people to communicate more easily and effectively.

Benefits of Hippotherapy

Hippotherapy has physical, mental, sensory, and speech benefits.

  • Physical benefits: The very act of learning to ride a horse requires improvements in balance and the ability to adapt to the horse’s motion. Riders must adjust their bodies and muscles to stay upright on the horse. The improvement in balance is a key development in a variety of health conditions.
  • Mental benefits: Riding a horse can be freeing for individuals who have long been held captive by a disabling condition. They can suddenly go where they want and get there faster than they could before, leading to increased confidence and self-esteem.
  • Sensory benefits: The new relationship with the horse can inspire new abilities. Patients are motivated to take in the scent of the horse and environment, the feel of the horse’s coat, and the sounds of the horse’s neigh and rhythmic footsteps.
  • Speech benefits: The love for the horse can motivate patients to find the words and means to express their feelings and observations. They are motivate to learn and practice new words and their pronunciations while they ride.

Many satisfied patients have expressed their gratitude for hippotherapy. The American Hippotherapy Association quotes an anonymous individual with cerebral palsy who described the loss of freedom he felt as his cerebral palsy became stronger. For this patient, hippotherapy was a means of retaining some independence and regaining lost physical abilities.

Increasing evidence of hippotherapy’s benefits and lack of side effects are making hippotherapy more popular in the U.S.

Last Updated on November 29, 2021

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